For MST124, I was pleased to see that my exam form wasn’t lost due to the bureaucratic nightmare of exams forms, and I received the expected 98% for the exam.  This OES goes alongside my module OCAS of 99%.

In TM129 the EMA came back at a 97%.  This OES matches quite nicely to my module OCAS of … 97%.

Distinctions in both!  All three Stage 1 modules, really.

Didn’t get much feedback this year.  That’s fine, as I feel pretty confident with the learning outcomes of both modules.

I realised that I didn’t talk much about the TM129 EMA.  It’s not accurate to say that I rushed it, but I did put it to bed pretty darned quickly.  The first part was a Choose-your-own-adventure exam section, where they gave us three questions (one each for Robotics, Networking, and Linux) and we had to answer two of them.  In the interest of time, I chose networking and Linux.

The networking question had two parts: A 400-word essay that pulls its information from a specific article, with other references welcome, and a prose-and-maths description of subnetting a class C IPv4 network.

The Linux question was a single 600-word essay about Internet of Things and embedded device security.  It required the use of a specified article and two other sources to answer specific concerns within the essay.

I used my regular TMA methods for these questions.  I think each one took about two days, though I’d read the main articles several times over a couple of weeks preceding work on the EMA.

The second part was to revise (in the American sense) two ePortfolio articles per block, using feedback from our tutor.  My tutor appeared to love my ePortfolio activities and never offered any suggestions, so I just cut-and-pasted these.  Job done.

And finally, there was a tragic attempt by the OU to prove value-for-money by pretending that TM129 had prepared us for the job market, and asked us to prove it by writing some CV cover-letter dross about a job posting we researched.  I’m a little embarrassed for the module team being asked to create the question, but I understand the market forces that cause it.  I resent market forces impacting my degree almost as much as I resent the notion that the purpose of education is employment, but it is what it is.  Also, I resent the phrase “it is what it is.”

If I had to guess where my marks came off, I’d wager there were one or two taken from the network subnetting part, because I just didn’t have the patience to write down maths for converting binary.  (You want me to show my workings?  I put it into a calculator, like everybody else.  Or sometimes I count in binary on my fingers, like all the other freaks.)  I put the binary into my prose (limited to 100 words), but for “showing my mathematical workings” I just drew a pretty table with a lot of ones and zeroes.  I hope another mark came off because I pasted an entire job ad, which took up two pages.  I don’t think they understand what job postings look like in the Internet age when recruiters don’t have to pay newspapers for inches and ink.

I worked hard on it, but still finished it relatively quickly, and submitted it two-and-a-half months early, so I could concentrate on MST124 revision (in the UK sense).

Anyway, done until October.  I’d normally be doing MOOCs right now, but I may be a bit burned out by the MST124 revision, and other stuff I’ll probably leave in another blog post soon.

These last two Stage 1 modules couldn’t be more different.  TM129 was far too easy for 30 credits, was a waste of both time and money, and makes the OU look a bit like a fake university for even offering it.  The tutor support on the module was amazing.  MST124, on the other hand, while being far too time-consuming for a 30 credit module, was a wealth of information, well structured learning, and left me with the single largest academic confidence boost I could imagine.  The word to paint my tutor in the best possible light would be “terrible”, though.

TM129 was born as three separate 10-unit modules.  My guess was that, much like now, students were forced to take all three modules, with no alternatives, so eventually bundled them up and called them a single module.  There’s not much to really tie them together, however.  The first block in the module, Robotics, doesn’t see students building a robot.  Or designing one.  Or touching one.  Or controlling one.  Or learning how to build or design one.  Students do learn how to control one, by using a (barely) modified programming environment for controlling Lego robots.  The amount of programming done is significantly less than in TU100, and probably less than in TM111 and/or TM112, making that bit of the module superfluous.  Understanding actuators, sensors, different high-level models for robot behaviour, and what can only be described as robotic ethics and sociology round out the block.

I’ll be honest, I enjoyed the robotics block.  Most students I spoke to did not.  I was interested enough in the topics covered to start playing around with Arduino processors, and have made some pretty fun little projects since then.

The second block is on networking.  For this, they just give students a Microsoft networking essentials book, and tell them to read most of it.  And that’s the block.  A £30 book which is pretty darned out of date.  On the one hand, it’s not useless information.  It’s a good primer for networking.  On the other hand … It’s a £30 book!

The third block is on Linux.  Several students found it difficult to complete the module because the tools referenced in the module were so far out of date.  It was very, very light on actual information, again.  I didn’t really hate it outright, because I found plenty of tips for every day Linux use.  But as a primer for somebody who doesn’t know Linux, it was insufficient.  For anybody familiar with Linux, it’s unnecessary.  So it’s a block without an audience, really.

Most horribly in relation to all three blocks, the assessments (TMAs and EMA) had essentially nothing to do with the Learning Objectives.  One task asked students to evaluate a server and client needs to recommend a Linux deployment running several different servers, how to install them, how to test them, and complete it in 400 words.  The problem with this is that only installation and testing were mentioned in the module.  Evaluating client needs and researching server software weren’t part of the learning objectives at all.  Neither were questions on Intellectual Property law, and a host of other questions in the other blocks.  It’s like the module team didn’t even read what they’d written, they just came up with some questions that sounded related to the block titles.

Though I enjoyed the blocks (and, perhaps surprisingly, I really did), I have to say that I feel objectively that the module is not fit for purpose and should be boiled in tar.

MST124, on the other hand, was nothing short of amazing.  I started preparing for MST124 literally over a year ago.  By the time October rolled around, I felt like I barely knew enough to get started.  Indeed, I was still making silly mistakes left and right when I started, because I was so far out of practice.

It was an absolute slog of a module.  It would often take me significantly more than 20 hours a week, when the recommendation for a 30-credit module is about 8.  Most of Unit 3 (functions) and Unit 11 (Taylor polynomials) are written very, very poorly, and I recommend anybody studying MST124 find outside reference material to help with them.  Activity 17 in unit 7 will possibly remain in my memory forever as the most horrifically impossible task, until I again sought outside help understanding it.  But other than these rough spots, it was a steady, continuous climb.

I felt like I’d learned everything well enough by the time I completed the routine unit study, but I wasn’t testing well at all.  So I really, really threw myself into revision.  I revised more every week than I’d spent studying.  It would have been six solid weeks, but I was extremely ill for the better part of one week.  (ALWAYS stay one or two weeks ahead of the module planner to cope with unexpected emergencies.)  When it all paid off in time for the exam, I felt completely unstoppable.  I’d gone from struggling with basic trigonometry and never having dealt with logarithms at all to nearly acing an exam which covered topics most people will never learn.

So if my tutor was rubbish, it’s alright.  The materials were brilliant enough without the help.  (Although it was nice to be part of the Facebook group.  Don’t know how far I would have gotten without them.)

So that’s it.  Two completely different modules.  The OU could really learn a lot by having all of the module teams take MST124 and see how amazing it can be done.

Wooooo!  It’s over!  Yesterday was the big day, and I’m done with it.  What follows is sure to be a very long, very rambling description of my first experience with an OU exam.

Things basically began the evening before, when I took my final past exam (September 2014) in exam conditions.  By “exam conditions,” of course, I mean I had to let the dog in and out every twenty minutes, deal with the exam room doubling as a kitchen and tea station, and a desk unsurprisingly as large as a kitchen table.  But it was close enough to get an idea for how well my revision had gone, and it was great: My fastest time (90 minutes) and best score (100%).  I knew it was too good to hope the real thing would go so smoothly, but it bouyed me up with sacks of confidence.

That confidence really took care of my nerves throughout the day.  That, or maybe it’s that it’s my busiest week ever at work and I didn’t have time to panic.  Either way, I didn’t have any performance anxiety.

I’d been advised several times not to arrive more than about 15 minutes before the start of the exam, but that’s not in my nature.  I had to fight with myself not to show up an hour early, but still ended up being about 45 minutes early.

Though the OU description of the venue said that there was “ample parking onsite”, there was not.  It was completely full to bursting, but just caught a space as I was leaving to park at the (expensive) mall car park a ten minute walk away.  I entered, and was greeted with several lovely signs directing OU exams students to wait in the atrium to be called.  The exam was in a hotel, and the atrium was a relaxing place to wait, with a restaurant and a coffee bar, and a water feature filling the room with pleasantly soothing sounds.

It also contained the reason for the lack of parking: Three or four dozen Open University students waiting to take their exam.  Apparently being an hour early would have been about average.  Still, there were enough comfortable armchairs to go around when I arrived, so I settled down to wait.  About half the students I saw had MST124 (or MST125) handbooks with them, some others had different maths books, and there were a few Stage 2 students doing non-maths.  (Interestingly, there were no Stage 1 exams for anything other than maths in our centre.)

I’m not sure when we were called into the hall, as I’d left my phone (and therefore clock) in my car.  I had only my wallet, keys, MST124 handbook, Casio fx85-PLUS calculator, pen, and three pencils with me.  Oh!  And a sack of rhubarb and custard sweeties.  There was a hastily drawn A2-sized map of the room by the door, showing which rows different modules were sitting in, and where the alphabet breaks were on each row.  There were about sixty students in all, with about two dozen there for MST124.

The desks weren’t large.  I’d guess about sixty centimetres wide, and less than half a metre deep.  They could have been worse.  On top of the desk were our desk record (an A5-sized slip of carbon paper with your personal identifier, name, exam number, course name, signature box, and a few boxes to write things), the question booklet, an answer booklet, a folded-over CME (computer-marked exam form), a plastic … clip of some kind, and a flat metal paper clip.  This took up basically the whole desk.  My stomach actually cramped sitting down at it because of the tight squeeze.  I opened my sweeties and placed five of them across the top of the desk (and stowed the rest under my desk) and my three pencils covered the rest of the desk.

One of the invigilators went on for about ten minutes about what not to do, and saying over and over to read all instructions, and follow all instructions.  (What he meant was don’t read all of the instructions and follow all of the instructions, instead guess which instructions pertain to you and follow those, instead.)  And then we started.  For MST124, I should have taken the unnecessary answer booklet and placed it under my desk, and ignored it completely.  But I filled it out dutifully, as it had instructions telling me to do so.

I filled out my desk record, and left it with my driver’s license.  That always has to remain on the desk, so there’s a large chunk of the desk real-estate you’re never getting back.  Next I filled out the admin part of the CME, and placed it on the bottom of all my paperwork.  Finally, I opened up my question booklet, and got to work.

This part I’d practised about half a dozen times at home, so there were no difficulties with it.  I would work a question, see if it matched any answers, and then see what went wrong if it didn’t.  By question 2, I was already stymied.  Nothing matched my answer, or looked very much like it, so I re-worked it, and got the same answer.  I did it two more times, and noticed myself start to get frustrated.  At this point, I mentally put the brakes on, took a deep steadying breath, and convinced myself to skip it and come back to it later.

I completed questions 3 and 4, and noticed while finishing question 4 what I’d probably missed in question 2.  Sure enough, I had the right answer, but a simple re-arrangement soon had me circling one of the answers, and moving onto the second page.

After that, the answers mostly tumbled out.  The pace felt slower than normal, but I wasn’t struggling.  Everything made sense.  There were some tricky questions (and trickier answers) but I felt (mostly) confident about all of them.  I did run into a degrees/radians mistake at one point, but caught myself in time.

My pencils flew off the desk several times, and I felt I must have been the noisiest one in the room.  I didn’t hear anybody else flipping through their handbooks for formulae like I was.  But before I knew it, I’d circled the last answer, and I was reaching for the CME form to put my answers down.

I had bought a pack of Staedtler HB pencils last week, and I’m glad I did.  Even though I’d been using HB pencils for my practice exams, the Staedtlers marked the paper much better.  I’d used one for the question book’s rough work, and one for marking the CME.  So having an extra one that was sharpened and ready to go if anything went wrong was nice.

At this point, 90 minutes had passed, matching my best practice exam.  I then turned my attention to memorising my answers.  All rough work must be done in the question booklet or (unnecessary) answer booklet, and no writing should be done in the handbook, and nothing you write on should be taken out of the room with you.  But I found no rules against memorising my answers.  It’s not easy to walk away with 42 characters memorised, but I stared at my CME for about fifteen to twenty minutes with various mnemonics, and finally had it down.

I gathered my forms and papers and sheets and booklets together, bolted and clipped them all together, and then raised my hand and waited for an invigilator.  She whispered that I’d basically done it all wrong, had me write some numbers in boxes, and did some origami to sort out my paperwork.  Hopefully it all gets marked properly.

I gathered my things, swooped out of the room as quietly as I could, sat in the atrium, and wrote down my answers.  Our results won’t come back for about six weeks, but we can get the questions in about two days, and I’ll be able to check my answers against Wolframalpha and find out how I did.

And I think that’s it.  When the questions are released in a few days, I’ll update with what I think my results are, and I’ll make a different post when my official results are received in July.

2018/06/07 Edit: It looks like I’ve got a 98%!  At the very least, assuming my form gets marked, I’ve got a distinction.  I didn’t seriously consider that a possibility coming into this module.  For my module result to be 98 (from OCAS 99 and OES 98) would have been completely unbelievable to me when I signed up for MST124.  It’ll take a few days to get over the shock.)

Thanks to the quick pace of studying matrices, MST124’s TMA03 was handed in early, putting me a month ahead of schedule in both modules.  I’ve decided to concentrate on just maths revision for the last few months of the academic year, so switched back to TM129 to complete the last block, Linux.

The first few weeks have many inconsistencies, typos, and factual errors, but then the block improves.  Actually, despite working professionally with Linux, I came to enjoy the block.  The materials weren’t personally challenging, but the ePortfolio again provided fun avenues for self-directed learning.  (Bonus: I picked up many tips.)

A minor issue was the ePortfolio back loading.  The ePortfolio works best if you work on it as you go.  This both checks current understanding, and distributes the workload.  The Linux block has small, mundane activities at the beginning, and several large, interesting ones after completing the final week of study.  This results in students crushed with many longer ePortfolio activities, then the final TMA, then the EMA, in consecutive batterings.  I feel the module team may have missed this perspective.

The TMA is also a bit questionable.  Several marks aren’t covered at all in the materials … which isn’t necessarily bad.  Independent research is clearly indicated, but methods of evaluation weren’t discussed, so it’s testing students’ innate ability rather than understanding of the learning objectives.  Some marks probably test checking Linux man pages … an answer does appear in a man page, but not the related page, giving me ambiguous feelings.  One question involves Intellectual Property law, entirely absent from module materials (and learning objectives), which I feel entirely inappropriate given the complexity of IP law.  Difficulty linking assessment questions to learning objectives has been a consistent issue with this presentation of TM129.  (Another question confuses “Linux” with “Ubuntu” …)

I’m already working on the EMA’s notes.  I doubt I’ll complete it this week as hoped, though.  TM129 TMA02 still isn’t back, but I’m hoping for that this week, too.  I hope to switch back to maths while I’m still ahead there.

2018/05/17 Edit: TMA03 for TM129 back: 96%.  As that’s the lowest mark of all TMAs across my modules this year, I’m pretty happy with my effort level.  All four marks came for the same point: My testing strategy for an impossibly complex task with only 400 words wasn’t robust enough.  I feel that this one failure couldn’t possibly have been worth 1/3 of the points of a section that had four subsections, particularly when some parts of my testing were quite good considering the ridiculous word count.  So in this instance, I respectfully disagree with my tutor’s assessment.  There were only 3 marks reasonably at stake for the testing section, and I definitely secured at least one, so my score should have been a 98.  But what’s two marks, especially when it’s the first and only time I’ve had a strong disagreement with a marking?  (As I’ve had initial disagreements with other markings, but come to see them from my tutor’s perspective over time, there’s a very real chance the same will occur with this.)  On the other hand, his feedback was insightful and useful!  And who could ask for more than that from a tutor?

Six years is a long time to work on anything.  I’ve only had one job which lasted longer than that.  (In fairness, so did my dad … Since he only ever really had one job.)  But it’s a bit of a rush to realise I’ve only got four more final prep weeks ahead of me.

How’d it go this year?  I took many fewer MOOCs, but learned much more.  This summer’s work has been worth well more than twice what I’ve been through with TU100 so far at the OU.  Computer science and object-oriented programming were covered in far more depth than just introductions, abstract program design was probably at introduction level (possibly a bit lower), and my mathematics refresher was very strong: It seems to have covered all of MU123.  And all of it was free!

I’ve also gotten cosy with this year’s modules.

For MST124, as I said, my Khan Academy prep seems to have taken me through everything I would have been exposed to in MU123.  Additionally, I’ve worked through the “boot camp” for MST124 (a series of practice tests and live/recorded tutorials reviewing pre-MST124 maths), and the first two units of MST124.

MST124 is unique compared to other modules I’ve been exposed to or heard about at the OU: They recommend you open your books and start going through the material as soon as you get them.  They know that this stuff is difficult for some people, and give us as much time to get through it as possible.  So even though I’d planned on only getting a week ahead with my study, I’ve done as recommended, and am three or four weeks in.  It’s going really well so far, with only some silly and redundant trigonometric concepts giving me pause.

For anybody considering MST124, here’s my recommendation for preparation: Don’t bother with the “Revise and Refresh” learning materials: They’re rubbish.  But use the quizzes to check your level, and definitely do the tutorials, at least the recorded ones.  For any gaps the quizzes turn up, use Khan Academy.  Or your favourite YouTube resource that explains to your learning style.  (The actual MST124 materials are fantastic, though.)

I’ve even rattled off my first TMA, which I’ll talk about in a different post.

For TM129, there’s not really much prep work for me to do.  TM129 used to be three separate 10 credit modules which have been grouped into a monolithic 30 credit module.  These previous modules are preserved in TM129’s three blocks: robotics, computer networks, and Linux.

The second two blocks don’t need much explanation: I work professionally in both of these fields at a level higher than that covered in the module, so there won’t be much for me to wrap my head around.

I’ve only been through the first week of the robotics block, but it seems I’ve inadvertently had the perfect preparation for that: the Begin Robotics MOOC presented by the University of Reading on FutureLearn.  A lot of the same material is covered, with the academics stripped out of it in the MOOC.  It looks as though the MOOC went into more depth into cybernetics, but I’ll know more later.

So that takes care of the TM129 content, but not its processes: The reports, the studying, assignments … the ePortfolio …

Well, I’ve done prep work for all of that, too, already: It was called TU100.

The school I work at is in its second week of the year, things are held together with Sellotape and bailing wire and just about functional, so of course I spent most of my morning dodging in and out of the new module sites for TM129 and MST124.

The nearly-default Moodle theme I familiarised myself with last year has been reskinned with a flat theme.  It’s easy on the eyes and extremely usable on mobile platforms, so thumbs up from me.  (Actually, the high level of usability makes the rest of the OU site a bit embarrassing, really.)  Great UX planning.

MST-124 is about what I expected: A solid university course translated to an online medium.  TM-129 is also about what I expected: Chaos and insanity doled out as if to children.  Well, no, that’s what I expected.  It seems to be more like watered down squash.  It’s what you asked for, just less of it in the same sized glass.

MST-124 (Essential mathematics 1) isn’t bad.  It’s an obviously mature module which has honed its methods over decades.  There’s just the right amount of hand-holding (to me) for things like preparing assignment formatting, progressing from unit to unit, checking knowledge, and asking for help.  The ragged screams and buckets of tears from students in years past have obviously not gone unnoticed, and the result is a very logical, almost soothing trip through intermediate maths.

TM-129 (Technologies in practice) is like someone had a dream about being taught the perfect module, but got it a bit wrong when they woke up and tried to write out all the details before the dream slipped away from memory.  I’m sure somebody thinks it’s highly logical, but it’s really a bit weird.

There are three blocks in TM-129: robotics, networking, and Linux.  The only other organisation to the tutelage is by breaking it into weeks.  So there aren’t units, sections, or sessions, as such.  Just Robotics week 1, Robotics week 2, etc.  It’s my first day with it, but it seems difficult to learn the concepts in a flowing way.  Concepts appear to be explored and limited based on time, rather than a balanced or comprehensive understanding of it.

Thankfully, I’m not here to get an understanding of the topics.  As with TU100, I’m here to gain practice in learning.  I can’t see the networking information, as that’s entirely in a Microsoft book that has yet to be shipped (I hope Microsoft Press isn’t as bad as their edX team), but I don’t see any glaring omissions from the other two topics.  They’re only meant to be introductions, so it’s possible they’re as useless as OpenLearn MOOCs, or they could be dead useful.  I probably won’t be able to offer much of an objective view even after the module’s over, due to my familiarity with all three topics already.

Mostly I’m excited that I can study again.  I enjoy the process.

Well that was earlier than expected!  I didn’t expect them to ship the books for MST124 out for another two weeks, but they were waiting for me when I arrived home yesterday.

The box is heavy.  My son picked up just one of the books inside and grunted under the weight.  It seems to be about a quarter acre of rainforest in the box.  The box contains:

  • MST124 Book A
    • Unit 1: Algebra
    • Unit 2: Graphs and equations
    • Unit 3: Functions
  • MST124 Book B
    • Unit 4: Trigonometry
    • Unit 5: Coordinate geometry and vectors
    • Unit 6: Differentiation
  • MST124 Book C
    • Unit 7: Differentiation methods and integration
    • Unit 8: Integration methods
    • Unit 9: Matrices
  • MST124 Book D
    • Unit 10: Sequences and series
    • Unit 11: Taylor polynomials
    • Unit 12: Complex numbers
  • Computer Algebra Guide (about using Maxima)
  • Handbook (74 page cheat-sheet you can take with you into the exam)
  • MST124 Guide (as “worth while” as every other OU module guide)
  • TMA form PT3 for posting assignments (Ha!)
  • Specimen exam paper, new for this year
  • Contents list

Here’s an “unboxing” photo with a bonus of my study area:

I had a look through the guide, the handbook, and the computer algebra guide, and then searched through they Labyrinth of Hidden OU “Support” Forums to look for anything interesting to do before the site opens.

The first thing of note was that the guide actually encourages students to start as early as possible on the material (literally as soon as they get the books, and before the site opens) and stay ahead until they’re done and it’s time to revise.  Cool!  Finally a module for the hares!

I downloaded and installed Maxima, and will use it as required, but as soon as the module’s over I’ll go back to doing what I used to do: WolframAlpha.  Maxima basically takes the place of requiring everybody to buy an expensive graphing calculator.

Then I looked into typesetting.  I have a lot of conflicting thoughts on the typesetting.  The first is that during the exam, I won’t have a computer to make my work pretty, so I may want to simply practice writing it out by hand for performance sake.  As I browse through the specimen paper, I don’t think this is much of a concern.

So for computer typsetting of my TMAs, I can either use LaTeX or MS Word’s equations.  (Or OpenOffice, I suppose, but I’m intentionally using MS through this degree course.  Another option would have been to use LibreOffice with the TexMaths LaTeX plugin.)  Last night I went through the guides for both.

Going in, I thought that LaTeX would be the better solution, as everybody glows about it.  It’s more work to learn, but apparently worth it in the long run.  In my opinion, the long run would have to be very, very, very long indeed.  It took about five times as long to learn as Word, because in addition to speaking its language for the maths, you also have to build the entire document around it.  Making a decent TMA template would probably take an initial few hours to get it looking as good as Word, with researching all the required functionality.  That said, if I were doing an entire maths degree, or was writing a book or thesis, it’d probably be worth the investment.  It’s absolutely professional quality.

Word, however, was much easier, quicker to learn, and was just barely behind in professionalism.  The only drawback was that the size of dynamic brackets wasn’t as nice as it was in LaTeX.  In exchange, you get to not worry about the rest of the document, easier and more intuitive codes, the ability to avoid codes altogether and instead point-and-click, instant rendering and feedback, and the data is then extremely portable rather than locked in a PDF.  If I need to write equations in another module (as I had to on every TU100 TMA) or elsewhere in life, the Word experience is also more portable.  If I needed complete control and customisation, then I’d probably opt for LaTex, but don’t see that happening in my current life tragectory.  It’s possibly worth it to learn the LaTeX codes, however, as they can be used in the Open University forums.

There are a few pre-module tutorials they’re running through September, and I’ll probably check one or two out, but I’m not that concerned.  After the Khan Academy prep I did this summer, I’m pretty confident already with about half the module.

A couple of months ago, I predicted a score on my EMA between 93% and 95%.  I’m pleased to have outperformed the prediction, and achieved a 98%.  My OAS for the rest of the module had been 97%.  It’s gratifying to see these two numbers so close, as it means my tutor was well calibrated to the overall module requirements, which means I can be confident when I rely on her recommendations going forward.  (Listening to her recommendations definitely helped in this score.)

It is all downhill from here, though.

With my (first draft) final assignment in the can long ago and myself recovered, I can put TU100 firmly in my rearview mirror, much like a fox run over when you’re late for the airport.  I only have to talk about it again when I get my results, which will take a while.  How did I do on my de facto EMA?  Well, let’s take a look at what it covers:

  • A four page report on concepts relating nominally to “appropriate technology” for different socioeconomic landscapes, but in reality it’s … any report ever.  I’ve definitely nailed the structure, speaking to the right audience, defining my terms, and referencing.  But it’s arbitrary and my confidence lacks any justifiable source.  In a worst-case scenario, I could lose 10 out of 30 marks, but realistically probably 5.
  • A 200 word snip from a job application cover letter.  These are essentially free points, so I’m expecting the full 10 marks, but maybe 8.
  • Sense activity, full 50 marks, ‘nough said.
  • Understanding and normalising relational databases.  The technical side of this I’m very confident with, so this is more about my ability to describe the process, and present information in an appropriate form (in this case some tables).  I’ve defined every technical term within an inch of its life.  Maybe I’ve missed something and I’ll miss 2 of the 21 marks available.
  • A task involving understanding the Data Protection Act 1998, and security and encryption.  This task is possibly the best marriage of its explicit and implicit goals, as the explicit goals mentioned are highly relevant, and the implicit goals of tailoring your message to your audience appear to be equally weighted.  I’m again unduly confident here, but we’ll hedge another 2 out of 19 marks available.
  • A page of maths and the creation of a spreadsheet, full 40 marks.
  • Argument mapping.  This one’s difficult, as there’s lots of moving parts.  There’s logic, there’s reading comprehension, there’s technical detailing … It’s specifically stated that there’s no one answer, but that’s whatever the nice version of a lie is.  A fib?  It’s a fib.  The structure and progression of the questions give the game away.  The worst part is that we’re analysing what appears to be an Italian text that’s been run through Google Translate.  I re-did this portion completely three times, so I’m not excessively proud of my chances.  Maybe 25 out of 30 marks.
  • Risk analysis and the data security CIA triad (mentioned briefly in a MOOC review roundup).  So here’s the problem: I think this one is really about presenting information in an easy to understand format.  I’ve therefore shot for the moon on this one and presented it in a non-standard but easy-to-understand format.  This could backfire like a Chevy in winter.  Worst case is maybe 6 out of 10 marks.  On the other hand, I love the irony of taking an unnecessary risk in a task about risk analysis, so I’m not changing it.

This leaves 185 marks in a worst-case scenario from 210 non-skills marks.  That’s 88%.  If we assume that I do similarly dismally on the 40 skills marks (which would be 35), that’s still comfortably in the distinction range.  How likely is my worst case scenario?  Unlikely.  Realistically, I would mark it at 93-95%.

So how do I feel about TU100?  I don’t feel overwhelmingly like it was a waste of my time, but it’s a waste of money.  That much outdated and poorly constructed material is worth maybe £500.  I had a good tutor and good support from other tutors, but not really in line with the amount of money which was spent.  It did, however, give me an excellent chance to practise my skills.  And remind me how much I hate group tasks.  It’s for the best that it’s coming to an end, and I hope they A) pull the plug on Sense, and B) stop telling people not to take Scratch courses ahead of the module if they use Scratch going forward.

And studying at the Open University?  It’s brilliant.  It’s perfectly suited to my lifestyle.  I’m glad I’m taking it slowly, as I hit quite a few personal challenges and had to keep scaling things back over and over, but I was consistently able to keep up with the work.  I’m quite happy with the study prep I did, as it worked well.  I know the rest will be harder than this year, but I’m really looking forward to the next short five years.

Onto the greener pastures of TM129 and MST124, part-time student finance loans for the next academic year opened sometime in the last few days, so that’s sorted.  Much quicker this year than last in many ways.

And that brings me to … The first year of this blog being complete!  And I’ve written a lot.  I have no idea of what I’ll write about during the summer this year, but I’ll find something to keep me busy and learning.  Certainly I’m going to tackle as much of maths as I can before MST124, and somehow I don’t think that OpenLearn is going to be of much help.

After five days of websites, phone calls, and emails, I’m finally enrolled on my next modules for Q62.  I’m finishing out Stage 1 with TM129 (Technologies in practice) and MST124 (Essential mathematics 1).  Enrolment for October 2017 opened on the 9th, and it finally got completely sorted this morning.  The website wouldn’t let me register on the first day, because it thought I was trying to take the modules in America from a UK address.  I don’t even know what that means, but I had to call the next day to sort it out.  Once they corrected that issue, they said I hadn’t sent in proof of residence in the UK.  Finding it pointless to argue what had or hadn’t been done, versus what had or hadn’t been lost by their IT systems, I sent in more proof.  The next hurtle was that they registered me on the phone for the modules, but didn’t tie those modules to my degree, so they wouldn’t count toward it.  (In the long run, this isn’t an issue, but it would have required more fuss next year, since my Stage 1 wouldn’t be cleared, even though I’d taken all the required modules.)  Student Finance England should start taking applications for part-time studies in the 2017/2018 academic year in around mid-May, but putting my SFE CR number in now switched me from just reserving the spot in the module until 20 April to being fully registered in it.

As with TU100, I will be on one of TM129’s final presentations.  The module’s final run is October 2018, but I think it has a February 2018 run before that.  It covers three main areas: Networking, Linux, and Robotics.  I’m glad that the degree is rounding out the ICT experience of its programme with these areas.  I’m extremely familiar with the first two, and a very poor hobbyist in the third.  My six year old son helped me build little toy robots last year, and this year he’s been working with a brilliant snap-together circuitry kit his auntie in America got him for Christmas.  Even though the practical portions of the robotics section is entirely virtual, I’m certain he’ll enjoy sharing those parts together.  It also comes with a copy of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, which was one of my favourite books in seventh grade.

MST124, I’m not ashamed to say, is a bit outside my abilities.  I will not be receiving a distinction on this module.  As only a bare pass is required and the specific outcome does not impact my degree classification in the slightest, I’m using this to full advantage and studying something I know I’ll only do about average on.  The trade-off is that I should learn and grow the most with this module.

I’ve finally found the block descriptions for MU123 and MST124, so here’s what you learn:


  • Basic maths review
  • Vocabulary and notation
  • Types of numbers
  • Statistical summaries (types of averages, significant figures, etc.)
  • Algebra
  • Graphs
  • Inequalities
  • Geometry
  • Advanced algebra
  • Quadratics
  • Statistical pictures
  • Trigonometry
  • Exponentials
  • “Maths everywhere” (which I’m guessing is making it practical, which means story problems)


  • Algebra review
  • Graphs and equations review
  • Functions
  • Trigonometry review
  • Coordinate geometry and vectors
  • Differentiation
  • Differentiation methods and integration
  • Integration methods
  • Matrices
  • Sequences and series
  • Taylor polynomials
  • Complex numbers

Now, why the OU can’t just put this list side-by-side someplace and let people choose is beyond me.  Looking at this, I can see that I had cleared MU123 by the ninth grade, including the level of trigonometry taught there.  I’m about halfway up the MST124 list, having done some differential calculus, but in dire need of a refresher.  I would be bored to tears on MU123.  So even though I’m quite certain I’ll get toward the lower end of between 40% and 84% on my end-of-module exam, MST124’s my route.  (I’ve heard the exam is multiple choice, though, so anything’s possible.)

It also has a revise & review site that opens up next week for early registrants to prepare them in case we’ve forgotten as much maths as we’ve learned.